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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 29573
Experience:  JA Mentor
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I own a home in NJ that is surrounded by acres on most

Customer Question

Hi...I own a home in NJ that is surrounded by green acres on most sides. A very large home is being built behind my house. It appeared they were building on the green acres that separated our properties. After they removed all the trees in this area and we lost our privacy, I began noticing runoff into my backyard from the tree removal. I went to the building department to find out what recourse I had and was told that the piece of land they removed the trees on is not green acres, but a "gore", which the building department defined as "an area of questionable ownership and that there are no laws saying they can't remove trees". That answer seemed very vague to me and I was told by the zoning department that there's probably not much I can do. I asked what other people do when they find themselves in my position and again, they were not very helpful and said I should ask the owners to plant some trees. I have done several searches on the internet, and can't find any detailed info on the subject.
I would like to know what the law actually is on the issue of gores in situations such as this before I approach my new neighbors, who aren't anywhere to be found. The home has been under construction for two years and there are no signs of life other than contractors.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Hi,

I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear about your situation.

The law of private nuisance says that a property owner has an obligation NOT to interfere with his neighbor's use and enjoyment of his property. So, if removing the tress is causing runoff across your property, you can require them to fix that problem, regardless of who owns the property in the middle. They're not allowed to improve their own property at your expense. In addition to fixing the problem, if you can show that your property has been damaged or the value has been reduced, they can be required to pay to restore your property or compensate you for the lost value.

The term "gore" doesn't appear anywhere in the NJ state statutes in this context (there is one statute that talks about the Highlands region). The fact that the area where they removed the trees is "of questionable ownership" means that you'd need a judge to look at all the evidence and figure out who owns it. That's going to require pulling property records, to start, and you may need to have a survey done. It's possible that the land in question doesn't belong to either of you (in which case, it likely belongs to the city/county). But, legally, no matter who owns the property, they can't create a situation that increases runoff to your property. They have to pay to fix the private nuisance they caused.

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Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Thanks Lucy. I am somewhat confused by your response regarding gores. I found a survey that was done on my property in 2012 and indeed that parcel I am asking about is referred to as "Lot 94 - Gore per F - Map", so I would guess it is a somewhat common term here in Monmouth County because the engineers report accompanying the 2012 Survey make no mention of the gore area. I understand that I have recourse for the runoff, but it could be hard to prove, even though it is very logical that is what happens when you remove trees, that were on an area "uphill" from my property, we are "downhill" from the gore. I am also very distressed because the area that has been cleared, claimed our privacy at the swimming pool and our backyard in general. The new property owners now have a clear birds eye view of what used to be a private swimming area. The zoning officer said that there were no laws stopping anyone in town from removing trees. That didn't seem right, so I looked it up when I got home and his statement is inconsistent with the local statute on tree removal, which clearly states, regarding the initial construction of a development (which is anything greater than 1 acre), and not to individual landowners once a certificate of occupancy is issued, that no trees with a DBH of 10" shall be removed, and if they were, then two trees must be replanted for every one tree of 10" DBH that was removed. So why on earth would the zoning officer say that to me? I have a call into him and am awaiting his response. So yes, we have a runoff issue, but they could claim when the construction is done, grading will be done to improve that situation. However, that does nothing to help us regain our privacy, our lovely view of trees and most likely my property value, now that we have a view of their garage and they have a very clear view of us.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 1 year ago.

Your testimony that the runoff increased when the trees were removed is proof. If you can get pictures of the area, that will help, especially if you can find old pictures of what it looked like before. And you would have the option of bringing in an expert who could testify as to what happens when trees are removed in this situation. To prove a civil case, you just need to present enough facts for the judge to conclude that, more likely than not, the other party has caused your injury. It's a pretty low standard, compared to what you see on TV in criminal cases.

To regain your privacy, you'll have to prove who owns the middle strip of land. Part of the problem is, if it's not you, you don't have standing to object to the trees being removed - even if the neighbor doesn't own the strip of land, either. You'd need something to establish that you thought you purchased that land with your property. But the NJ statutes don't say anything about gore ownership. You may want to look at the ordinances specific to your area to see if they have anything useful. I found the NJ local ordinances broken down by area, but for some reason, Monmouth County's codes are further broken down into smaller areas. If not, you may need a local attorney who can really dig into the case law. That's the type of work that can take several hours, so it's unfortunately beyond the scope of this site. You also would have the option of planting new trees (although I realize that full grown trees would be expensive) or building a wall between the properties.